Tag Archives: Sharon Hodgson MP

Vellum and Acts of Parliament II

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Great news! There was a vote in the House of Commons on Wednesday 20th April 2016, on whether to continue to print Acts of Parliament on vellum or not. This is the record of the debate in Hansard. The vote was overwhelmingly in favour of continuing to print Acts of Parliament on vellum. This was a wonderful reward to all the hard work many people had done in writing to their MPs and publicising the campaign. However, this decision lasts only for this parliament, so the question may well be raised again.

February 16th 2016: I had started to write this blog with a heavy heart. On Saturday 7th February 2016, we heard that the printers of Acts of Parliament on vellum had been given 30 days’ notice, and that printing was due to stop on April 1st (what an appropriate date I thought!). This was a surprise as we understood from James Gray MP’s Point of Order last November that there would be a debate in the House of Commons. This was what happened in 1999 when the Lords decided to stop using vellum and a debate and vote in the House of Commons decided to continue, so vellum was still used. So this time there was no debate and the decision had been taken.

35910.jpgI contacted the great Sharon Hodgson MP, Shadow Minister for Children, and she raised a Point of Order on Tuesday 9th February and the Speaker advised her to look into an Early Day Motion so that MPs could register their views on this.

However, the decision had clearly been made. Sir Paul Beresford is the Chair of the Commons Administration Committee, and Lord Laming is the Chair of the equivalent in the House of Lords. James Gray is a member of the Commons committee and he, and two other MP members who said that they had been ‘misled’ were not in favour of using paper instead of vellum. So who took the decision, when and where?

_88273692_vellum-making-lovettFollowing Sharon’s Point of Order there was a bit of a media circus and I was interviewed by Radio 5 Live, Radio Scotland, and was on BBC News at 10. I was also interviewed for a piece on the BBC website. They used my photo of Lee Mapley (right) scraping a skin, which is featured in my Illumination – Gold and Colour book.

Sharon was on a number of programmes too and Paul Wright of William Cowley on even more.

We made the case as well as we could but knew it was bolting the stable door …!

Then on Monday 15th March we all woke up to the news that Matt Hancock MP has stated that the Cabinet Office would cover the cost of vellum. Hurray! He told the Daily Telegraph: ‘Recording our laws on vellum is a millennium long tradition, and surprisingly cost effective. While the world around us constantly changes, we should safeguard some of our great traditions and not let the use of vellum die out.’

There were many newspaper articles as a result – the Independent, the Daily Telegraph, the Guardian, and the Daily Mail being but some.

The campaign has been run by the Heritage Crafts Association; this is their press release.

As I write this all is not quite safely delivered in that the process still has to be gone through, the decision reversed, as many MPs as possible to sign the Early Day Motion which James Gray is leading. I am positive but also know that ‘there’s many a slip …’!

I’ll update this blog when everything has been confirmed – in the way we hope it will be!

 

Vellum and Acts of Parliament

Parliamentary archives - Acts of Parliament (4)Vellum has been used for printing or writing Acts of Parliament almost since they were first recorded. In 1999 there was a move to print these Acts on paper, which was defeated. However, on 14th October this year, William Cowley, who are the last vellum and parchment makers in the UK, heard from their MP, Mark Lancaster, that there was to be a House of Commons meeting where the end result could well be that printing on vellum would cease.

 

 

 

imagesI was actually at a committee in the Houses of Parliament when I got this message, and went on to a meeting just after with one of the Heritage Craft Association’s patrons, Lord Cormack. He kindly agreed to write a letter in support of the continuation of the use of vellum, and also gave me invaluable advice.

 

A phone call with Paul Wright of William Cowley that evening, and a further conversation with Lord Cormack clarified the situation. The House of Lords agreed in 1999 to discontinue printing on vellum, however the House of Commons disagreed and so the use of vellum has continued. The discussion and vote was to be by the Administration Committee, chaired by Sir Paul Beresford MP (http://www.parliament.uk/biographies/commons/sir-paul-beresford/103).

I wrote to Sir Paul Beresford and contacted as many people as I could who worked in conservation, museums, libraries, as book binders, and also other practitioners. I explained the situation briefly, and asked them to contact Sir Paul themselves.

There are three main points about paper and vellum and then one about the craft:

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  1. Vellum lasts. We have vellum documents that are over 2,000 years old, and whole books from around 350 AD (see right: Codex Sinaiticus in the British Library) which can still be consulted and used, pages turned etc. If vellum had not been used, the new Archbishop of Canterbury would not be able to kiss the St Augustine Gospels (brought over in 597 with St Augustine) when enthroned, we wouldn’t have the Domesday Book (1086), nor be celebrating 800 years of the Magna Carta with all the significance of the rights of people. Paper does not last anything like as long. Archival paper lasts for about 250 years; it may last longer if it is stored in special conditions, but no specialist will actually guarantee the ‘500 years’ that has been suggested. In any case, this is not 2,000 years!
  2. vellum makingWe have been told that the cost of printing Acts of Parliament is about £103,000 per year. We know from William Cowley that they receive about £47,000 per year for supplying vellum. This means that printing and other costs are £56,000. These costs will apply whether printing is on vellum or on paper, as there are no extra costs for printing on vellum nor any different inks needed. So the saving would be the cost of vellum, £47,000, minus the cost of archival paper, which we have been told is about £20,000. The saving is, therefore, £27,000. This relatively tiny amount is what the decision rests on!
  3. CIMG1640Vellum isn’t only green but green-plus, as it is a byproduct of the meat and dairy industry. Male calves are killed for veal (veal and vellum have the same derivation) when they are a certain size if they aren’t selected for breeding and as they can’t produce milk. Once processed, their skins go to be tanned for the leather industry, more than we think go to landfill as we produce more skins than are required, and a few are used for vellum. No forests are cut down, no harmful chemicals are used, no energy-using machinery is required to produce vellum. The only energy is that of the parchmenter, who has taken 7 years to learn the craft skills.
  4. images-1William Cowley is the last vellum and parchment maker in the UK, and takes the passing on of skills seriously. It takes 7 years to train an apprentice to journeyman level, and they have one being trained at the moment. Supplying skin to parliament considerably boosts the sales of vellum and the effect cannot be over-estimated. It will have a serious effect on William Cowley if this supply stopped. We are losing too many of our heritage crafts by default and many of them are, like Cowleys, currently thriving businesses. (for the difference between parchment and vellum etc see:  http://www.patricialovett.com/vellum-and-parchment-and-a-special-offer/)

b6994e70-79b8-11e5-_999169cOn Saturday 24th October, there was an article in The Times*, and also a piece in their ‘comment’ section. Both were broadly positive, although there were errors. First, the cost of vellum is nothing like the £80,000 per year quoted, and secondly, no calves would be ‘saved’ by not printing on vellum, simply more calfskins would go to landfill. I sent email a letter to the Times correcting these facts but sadly my letter wasn’t published!  *(http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/politics/article4594895.ece)

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 15.53.57During that Saturday, I was asked if I would be interviewed for BBC World Service, the PM Programme, and Radio 5, which I did. During Sunday I was asked if I would be interviewed for BBC2’s Daily Politics programme on Monday (http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b06myj7x/daily-politics-26102015) . I was able to make all 3 main points on vellum vs. paper, and also raise the fact that William Cowley were the last makers of vellum producing a world-class product. Wonderfully, the two MPs also being interviewed agreed with me, the Labour MP pointing out that we were the sixth richest country in the world and were arguing over such a small sum. To round off this ‘media frenzy’ (!) I was interviewed a few weeks later by Jeremy Vine on Radio 2, where we had half an hour, interspersed with music, to flesh the debate out more.

select committeeThe House of Commons committee, meanwhile, had voted ‘unanimously’ to discontinue the use of vellum. One member of the committee, James Grey MP (http://www.parliament.uk/biographies/commons/james-gray/261) was slightly delayed to the meeting and would have voted against the proposal to print on paper. In the House of Commons later that day, James Grey made a Point of Order where he said that it was recorded that the vote of the committee was unanimous, when in fact he had objected to it, and also that this vote should be one needing a vote of the full House. He went on to say that he thought this ‘a disgraceful piece of heritage vandalism’.

So it is likely that there will be a debate in the House of Commons, with a free vote.

In addition, Sharon Hodgson MP, who is also Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Art, Craft and Design Education has taken this matter up, and has tabled a series of excellent and pertinent questions. (http://www.parliament.uk/biographies/commons/mrs-sharon-hodgson/1521). These relate to the actual cost (we have queried the £80,000 figure), how much would be saved by not using vellum, how much it would cost to create a special storage environment, what the advice is from archival experts in terms of the longevity of paper, how much it would cost to reprint the Acts of Parliament when the paper has deteriorated, and so on.

So the matter is not closed and I would urge everyone in the UK to write to their MP to point out that the cost implications are not the only thing to bear in mind when the continued supply of vellum and parchment is questioned, and the cost of the conservation of paper and re-printing of the Acts of Parliament at some time in the future need also to be taken into account. Many thanks to those of you who have kindly already written to your MPs. It is important and it does matter!

All Party Parliamentary Group for Art, Craft and Design Education

westminster hallVisiting the Houses of Parliament is always a privilege. It is not all as originally mediæval as I would like, in that only Westminster Hall, begun in 1097 by William II (William Rufus), and ready two years later, has original features. But the work by the architects Barry and particularly Pugin in the nineteenth century, after the fire that destroyed much of the original building, means that it definitely all has a very Gothic slant, and it is always a joy to be surrounded by such history and such rich design.

photo copy 10I was delighted, when I went to my first meeting of the APPG for Art, Craft and Design Education to see hand-craft at work. Just at the top of the main steps from Westminster Hall (the top of the picture above) they were re-laying the tiles to the pavement. This showed great craftsmanship in that the right mix of mortar, the right amount to be laid, and the correct pressure in tapping a wooden mallet all needed great skill. The designs reminded me when I was learning heraldry of the ways in which we had to fit lions and other heraldic beasts into particular shapes without losing the character of the animal (this was when I learned calligraphy and illumination as well). Notice that the lions in the square tiles above have four legs, swirling tails, heads etc etc but still fit into the shape.

photo copy 11I arrived very early for the meeting because of train times, and noticed a piece of M C Oliver’s calligraphy in the Central Lobby explaining the designs in the mosaic situated in the wall above this text. The lettering style is very typical for the period and written in a strong hand on stretched vellum. I am not sure whether we would find his very closely textured lettering with potential clashes of ascenders and descenders and tiny margins acceptable nowadays!

 

But I was there to represent craft and the Heritage Crafts Association at this committee and so had this to focus on. Chaired by dynamic Sharon Hodgson MP, Shadow Minister for Women and Equality, and supported by NSEAD, the agenda was wide-ranging. After the first item I was able to give a brief introduction to heritage crafts and the Heritage Crafts Association, mentioning some of our challenges. Other items covered were the Art Party Conference, and a fascinating insight into art, craft and design education by HMI Ian Middleton who mentioned two reports: Making a Mark, and Drawing together: art, craft and design in schools. Ian is also Ofsted’s National Lead for Art, Craft and Design in Education. The problems of Discount Codes for children choosing subjects to study for GCSE were also raised and it seems that subjects in the arts and crafts were most hit. A student could take Maths and Stats for example, with both subjects counting for school published statistics, but taking photography as well as design, or graphics and design, would count as only one subject when schools added up their GCSE successes. This is not likely to encourage take up of art, craft and design subjects! Yet these subjects involve different disciplines and were usually taught by different specialists (unlike Maths and Stats). The UK has some of the best innovators in the world in terms of designs and craft. Encouragement at all levels should be happening, not discouragement for reasons of statistics! The NSEAD proposed Day of Action was also raised. This is likely to be on June 14th and is an opportunity for art, craft and design teachers and amateur and professional practitioners to take their skills to the community and to schools to give everyone a chance to experience the skills involved.

It looks like a group keen to raise issues and get answers, and will certainly add to the excellent work being done by the Craft Industry Board.